Thursday, 16 December 2010

Mrs Brown's wardrobe

So sweet, maybe too good to be true, a frilly cotton set of underwear found in the decorative arts collection in Stoke

After much drooling I managed to pull myself together enough to share the photos from Tuesday's visit to Stoke Potteries Museum and Art Gallery! These pictures don't really do the garments I saw justice. To see a picture is one thing, but to see the clothes up close is another thing entirely. They are almost like time capsules, in that they embody times gone by and individual pasts.

Some had hand stitching and repairs and some still had the original price tages still attached. But all were of interest:

The first thing we looked at were dresses from the correct era, late Forties, early Fifties. I was looking out for the distinctive influence of Dior's 'New Look'; The nipped in waist and full skirt. But many of the dresses, though beautiful, were still boxy and focused on the shoulders.

This blue number had a high neck and lovely detailing on the shoulders

Quite unassuming at first glance I think this red dress would have been stunning when worn. It has a high neck and would give the wearer an elegant column shape. Very film star!

I felt very drawn to this hot peach dress for the character of Mrs Brown. Although is isn't as up to date as I'd have liked, the colour is quite unusual and the material is light and floaty, fun and young. The skirt is slightly fuller than the other dresses, maybe this dress is on the verge of the 'New Look' revolution?

Some of the other dresses were very much evening attire and were very stylish. When looking for the brand label I was impressed to see many of them had been hand stitched and were obvioulsy hand made, maybe from patterns found in magazines like those found in Vogue. It highlighted how common it was to sew your own back in those days as off the peg clothes were still relatively new and seamtresses were for the well off. But that didn't stop some women creating some exquisite designs!

This long evening gown has a full skirt and a focus on the bust area. It came with a little cropped jacket. When we looked inside, there was obvious stitching holding the strips of sequins in place. The kind of stitching done at home, certainly not a seamtress or machine.

Another beautiful example of hand stitching. This dress had no makers label. Here you can see a definate direction towards the 50's with a halter neck, emphasis on waist and full skirt!

This dress really stood out for me. Not only is it stunning, it strides both decades perfectly. You can see the Paris influence and it has a bold and young pattern. I love the pink satin fins which draw attention to the waist. It's very stylish. I was worried it might be too posh for Mrs Brown, maybe beyond her means but I have been told that the dress was purchased at a sale at Marshall and Snelgrove, a department store that by the 1950's was losing business and eventually merged with the company which eventually became Debhanams.

Another example of fabulous evening attire! This dress was from the Heiress brand. Although this sounds quite upper class I'm told by the museum it was similar to the Horrocks label in that it sold affordable off the peg fashion. A strong contender for Mrs Brown's outfit.

We also looked at 1950's cocktail dresses. These, though gorgeous, were too advanced for the era of the project, but they were worth taking photos of just so you can see!

The skirt of this dress was so stiff it stood out on it's own with a built in crinoline!

This dress evoked much sighing when it was discovered. It is simply a dream frock, layers and layers of floatly white in a girly prom style. The bodice is boned and the skirt is very full and soft. It is screaming to be put on and adored!

Next came underwear. I was looking for suspenders, bras, and slips. The slips let me tell you were a real suprise treat!
Wartime and rationing; you'd expect very simple unembellished articles. Not pink, frivolous numbers and silky peach Utility!

This peach slip bears the Utility label. Most of the Utility slips we found were of the same style, simple yet suprisingly pretty

The shop ticket was still attached to this slip which was in perfect condition!

A very girly touchable slip, with a full petticoat, perfect for those full Dior style skirts

This was certainly the find of the day! A pink gorgeous slip made by a brand called Movie Star. The Museum's archives tells it was brought over from America during the war! A present from a soldier? A black market accquision? Or an overseas gift from a family member?

An advert for the USA brand Movie Star. The company later changed it's name to Stardust, and the founders even went on to create a modelling accademy and talent agency! With such emphasis on glamour and elegance inspired by the famous women of the silver screen I can see Mrs Brown being enchanted with this idea and being very happy to own a bonafide American item of clothing so closely associated with the movies she so loves!

Some of the underwear wasn't quite so evocative. Upon our searches we found a huge rubber girdle, complete with lacing and a strong unpleasant smell of old rubber. But this was joined by more refined undies; boned all in ones and bullet bras. Not to mention a lovely frilly set of knickers, like something from a 50's dream:

The Beast, as it became known that day! This was a seriously big rubber girdle!

In complete contrast, small boned slip which would have given a refined shape

A mesh girdle with bra in one

Big knickers, not just somehting from Bridget Jones then.

It's difficult to see here but this bra was a classic vintage pointy shape

I enjoyed these wooly all in ones. It's easy to forget that during the austere times of war and after a pair of warm undies like these would have been very welcome. In fact they were common across all classes with adverts for ladies wool underwear being found in Vogue magazines of the period.

My head is full of ideas from this wonderfull collection of clothes! I now have to decide what would best suit Mrs Brown, and work in her dressing room set. Some more research I think and I'll be there, I already have some favourites, but it's not about what I'd like, it's what would fit the story of Mrs Brown the best given her character and circumstances. I'll let you know how it goes.

P.S once I've decied on the outfit and underwear, we can start to build on her accessories; hats, gloves, jewellery and shoes!

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